Conn. Policing Reformers Say More Work Needs To Be Done

By Sarah Martinson | January 22, 2021, 4:49 PM EST

Racial disparities between Connecticut residents who are stopped for traffic violations have decreased over the past five years, but more Black and brown people are still being pulled over by traffic cops in the state.

Kenneth Barbone, manager of the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, said during a webinar hosted by the Connecticut Bar Association on Thursday that Connecticut police departments need to examine whether their traffic stop procedures are achieving their goal of promoting safety or are disproportionately negatively impacting minorities in the state.

Holding up Connecticut's thick motor vehicle code manual, Barbone said it is nearly impossible for residents not to commit a technical violation within 60 seconds of being behind the wheel of their cars.

"Most people, before they even turn the car on, have committed some technical violation of law," he said, noting that many residents don't know that having a frame around their license plate is a technical violation.

However, even though license plate frames are a violation of Connecticut traffic rules, police officers don't stop residents for these violations, which illustrates the huge amount of discretion that officers have when enforcing traffic rules, Barbone said.

Madison County Chief of Police Jack Drumm, who joined Barbone on the webinar, said he doesn't understand what some motor vehicle laws have to do with traffic safety, like the fact that he is supposed to ticket a driver for not having insurance based on insurance laws that negatively impact low-income individuals. Traffic laws like this make police officers de facto bill collectors, Drumm said.

"So now I have to take a family out of the car that was en route to the beach, put them in front of a wrecker, I have to give the gentleman a ticket and his car is being towed," he said. "[The driver] couldn't pay his few-hundred-dollar tax bill in the first place and now it is costing him a thousands bucks. Where is the balance?"

The other speakers on the webinar were Tiheba Bain, founder of the nonprofit Women Against Mass Incarceration, and Warren Hardy, organizer of Helping Young People Evolve. The moderator was Charles Grady, media coordinator of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's New Haven field office.

The webinar was the second part of a two-part session hosted by the Connecticut Bar Association called "Policing and Race in America: Past, Present, and Future." The first part was held in December and focused on how race impacted the formation of police departments.

Bain said she doesn't believe all police officers are bad, but that she and her two sons don't trust the police because of the "senseless killings" of Black and brown people that happen even in routine traffic stops.

"We don't trust the police not because we don't want to, but because when we do it is not to our benefit," she said.

Hardy added that every person, no matter their race or gender, needs to work to recognize and end the systemic racism in America that contributes to racial profiling and the unequal treatment of Black and brown people by police officers.

"This is a life-or-death situation that we are dealing with, and we need all hands on deck," he said.

--Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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